Your Guide to a Sterile Processing Technician Career
Whether you’re looking for a new career – or have recently graduated from high school – allied health careers are excellent choices for many Americans. This goes double for the sterile processing technician field, which offers flexible working hours, plenty of upward mobility, and quick entry into the healthcare sector.
Signing up for a sterile processing certification program is the first step towards an exciting career in the healthcare field. Read our step-by-step career guide to explain what it entails, the opportunities that exist, and the easiest ways to get started in this growing field.
What Is a Sterile Processing Technician?
If you’ve never heard about this job title before, it might sound a little mysterious. This is actually one of the most important positions in the healthcare industry. There are a variety of names for sterile processing techs (SPTs), depending on where they work and the specifics of their job description:
- certified registered central service technician
- sterile processing and distribution technician
- sterilization technician
- sterile instrument technician
- medical instrument technician
- central sterile technician
No matter the job title, you’ll be in charge of instrument and medical device decontamination, organization, and packaging. The main goal of your job is to prevent the spread of infection by ensuring that all instruments are disease-free.
Your day might start with packaging or transporting sterilized equipment. When instruments come in, you’ll clean tools in an autoclave and check for equipment for damage.
It’s not all about cleaning though: Throughout the day, you’ll record everything you do and keeping track of any apparatus deliveries you make. Only then can the equipment be distributed to exam and operating rooms.
Where Can Sterile Processing Techs Find Work?
Looking for a fast-paced work environment that doesn’t require continuous customer interaction? Sterile processing might be a great career choice. Working largely on your own, you’ll operate equipment, move carts, and keep daily logs.
Even though you don’t have to work directly with patients, you may occasionally see some blood or bodily fluids. You’ll also have the opportunity to learn about (and handle) many types of equipment.
After completing your sterile processing technician training, here are a plethora of places you can work in this field. Hospitals, dentists, outpatient care centers, specialty care centers, and ambulatory services centers all employ these allied health workers.
Anywhere that medical equipment is used, there’s a need to have it properly handled by central sterile technicians. There are even companies that specialize in this particular function.
What Hours Does a Sterile Technician Work?
Sterilization technician positions can offer flexible working hours (from nights and weekends to weekdays), however, the exact shift requirements vary based on the type of facility. If you’re employed in a dentist’s office, it’s unlikely that you’ll work over holidays.
A hospital will probably have evening and overnight shifts available. Since there are so many places to find work, you should be able to find the schedule that is the best fit for you.
Sterile Processing Technician Salary
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average sterile processing tech salary was about $36,240 in 2018. This is excellent for an entry-level position that doesn’t have direct patient contact and has a predictable working environment. What’s more, you’re encouraged to use your organizational, critical thinking, and troubleshooting skills while working independently.
Sterile Processing Technician Career Outlook
According to The Atlantic, the healthcare industry is the largest employer in the US. The requirement for sterile processing techs is projected to grow 10% to 14% between 2016 and 2026. Much of this comes down to a rapidly aging Baby Boomer generation.
The growth of the entire industry – and the demand for medical instrument preppers – makes this a fantastic career option.
Room for Advancement
We know you’re looking for a career (not just a job), which means that there’s plenty of room for advancement over time. As a processing technician, you can work your way up to a sterile processing supervisor, which comes with a fairly significant raise. According to Glassdoor the average salary for a supervisor is $52,526. You can also branch out and become a surgical tech.
Steps to Becoming a Sterile Processing Technician
To get started on your way to becoming a sterile processing tech, you’ll need a high school diploma or GED. This will make you eligible to enroll in one of the many community colleges or technical schools across the country.
Program lengths vary but they tend to require anywhere from ten weeks to two years, though most are between 4 to 8 months. Be sure the school is accredited by an agency recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education.
Apply to a Sterile Processing Technician Training Program
To apply to a SPT program, you’ll need to submit an application, provide the required admission documents, and possibly take a standardized test (e.g. Wonderlic, ACCUPLACER) to showcase your ability to succeed in your future program.
What You’ll Learn in Your SPT Courses
During the program you’ll study:
- Sterilization methods
- Surgical terminology
- Infection control
- Human anatomy
- Surgical instrumentation
- Safety and risk control
In addition to classroom time, you’ll be required to complete a clinical internship to gain some practical experience. When applying for jobs, your education and experience will set you apart from inexperienced applicants.
Why Get Your Sterile Processing Technician Certification?
While SPT certification isn’t required in all states, some require a certification from the International Association of Healthcare Central Service Material Management (IAHCSMM) or the Certification Board for Sterile Processing and Distribution (CBSPD).
Even in states where certification isn’t required, it makes your application for employment far more competitive.
IAHCSMM Certification Requirements
IAHCSMM offers several certification tests including Certified Instrument Specialist (CIS), Certified Endoscope Reprocessor (CER), and Certified Registered Central Service Technician (CRCST).
The first certification you’ll want to sit for is the CRCST, as it’s required to take the other two tests, which are specializations. The CRCST calls for 12 continuing education credits per year in order to renew your certification.
The CRCST will show your knowledge, skills, and capabilities as a sterile processing technician. You must have 400 hours of hands-on experience and pass an exam to gain this certification.
Certification Board for Sterile Processing and Distribution Requirements
The CBSPD offers the SPD Certification Exam, which is valid for 5 years. To take the exam, you need to meet one of the following qualifications:
- Successful completion of a SPT training course with a grade of 70 or better.
- 12 months of employment (either part-time or full-time) in a position that performs sterile processing duties.
- 12 months of work in healthcare product services/sales associated with the sterile processing profession.
- 6 months in a similar allied healthcare profession (full or part-time), part of which must include sterile processing activities.
Find a Sterile Processing Technician School Near You
While SPT programs are taught at hundreds of schools across the country, it’s advisable to do your research. Visit a few campuses and speak with admissions specialists who can answer all of your questions. Make sure that your school has been accredited by a recognized accrediting agency.
If you’re in the New Jersey area, contact one of our advisors to discover more about our Sterile Processing Technician training program.